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Failure for success: How 5 famous entrepreneurs overcame failure


Failure! Rejection! Defeat! For most of us, these words instil feelings of terror and dread, but you may be surprised to learn the even the most successful among us have experienced failure in their business ventures — and then swapped failure for success. Here are 5 famous entrepreneurs who have famously failed — before getting back up again, proving that you can experience failure for success benefits and outcomes

5 famous entrepreneurs who endured failure for success

Arianna Huffington

Cofounder of the Huffington Post. Second book rejected by 36 publishers

“I failed, many times in my life. One failure that I always remember was when my second book was rejected by 36 publishers. Many years later, I watched HuffPost come alive to mixed reviews, including some very negative ones, like the reviewer who called the site “the equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar, and Heaven’s Gaterolled into one.”

“But my mother used to tell me, ‘failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.’ So at some point, I learned not to dread failure. I strongly believe that we are not put on this Earth just to accumulate victories and trophies and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.”

Starting and running a business isn’t easy, and the road to success and the road to failure often follow the same path. But there are steps you can take to secure your success – like leaving some of your non-critical business functions to the experts so that you can save money, streamline operations and focus on your core business. 

Walt Disney

Co-founder of Walt Disney Productions. Fired for not being creative enough, suffered several losses.

When he was 22, Walt Disney was fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough”, one of his early ventures, Laugh-o-gram Studios, went bankrupt, and even after his classic films hit theaters, the Walt Disney studio was constantly in debt.

His early films:

  • Pinocchio – Lost money
  • Fantasia – Lost money
  • Bambi – Lost money

Walt Disney went on to be nominated for 59 Academy Awards, winning 32 of them.

Colonel Harland Sanders

Founder of KFC. Chicken turned down 1009 times.

Colonel Harland Sanders was a serial failure – he tried to start several companies and was fired from a number of jobs. He wife even left him at one point because he was always trying to get rich quick!

While in his 40s, Sanders started café on a major highway, but his business died after a new highway was built, taking his customers with it. At the age of 65, he found himself penniless and decided to take his chicken recipe on the road. He would cook his fried chicken on the spot for restaurant owners to convince them to see his chicken. Legend has it he heard 1009 “no”s before he heard his first “yes”. By 1964, Colonel Sanders had 600 franchises selling his trademark chicken. He sold his company for $2 million.

Vera Wang

Fashion Designer. Failed figure skater.

Brides who have worn Vera Wang designs may be relieved to learn that she didn’t make it as a figure skater  – when she was in high school, she competed at the 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and hoped to one day compete in the Olympic games.

After she failed to make the team, she pursued a career at Vogue, but was passed over for the editor-in-chief position. When Vera became engaged in 1989, she was frustrated by the selection of bridal wear so she designed her own gown. She later opened her own bridal boutique on Madison Avenue in New York City and is now one of the most iconic wedding dress designer in the world.

“For me the idea that I could always do better, learn more, learn faster, is something that came from skating. But I carried that with me for the rest of my life.”

Bill Gates and Paul Allen

Microsoft Co-Founders. Failed traffic Software Designers.

At the early age of 17, Bill Gates founded Traf-O-Data will his childhood friend, Paul Allen. They designed a computerised microprocessor to analyse traffic data from the black rubber traffic counters that are placed on roads.

But on the big day of the reveal, the device failed to work. The business failed, but Gates and Allen used the learnings from the experience to their advantage and formed a  new startup called “Micro-Soft” in 1975.

Paul Allen: “I have made my share of business mistakes, but Traf-O-Data remains my favorite mistake because it confirmed to me that every failure contains the seeds of your next success. It bolstered my conviction that micro-processors would soon run the same programs as larger computers, but at a much lower cost.

Using information from various published biographies and interviews, this infographic from Smarter Business lists the failures of five famous entrepreneurs and how they managed to overcome them.

How 5 famous entrepreneurs overcame failure

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